CAREX Canada is an organization of researchers and specialists that provides knowledge about Canadians’ exposures to known and suspected carcinogens. In a report to the Canadian Cancer Society, CAREX (which stands for CARcinogen Exposure) Canada reveals that studies have shown that approximately 570 lung cancers are attributed to occupational exposure to crystalline silica each year in Canada. This amounts to 2.4 percent of lung cancer cases diagnosed annually.

What is crystalline silica?

As the report explains, “silica is a naturally occurring mineral found in soil, sand, and rocks. Work processes such as breaking, grinding, or sawing these materials releases crystalline silica dust into the air. Workplace exposure to crystalline silica is common in several trades due to its presence in many handled materials such as concrete, mortar and brick. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies crystalline silica as a known carcinogen (IARC 1).”

Respirable (a big word meaning “very small”) crystalline silica particles can cause multiple respiratory diseases. They include silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and kidney disease.

What is silicosis?

Silicosis occurs when silica dust enters the lungs and forms scar tissue. This makes it difficult for the lungs to take in oxygen. One of the scariest aspects of silicosis is that it often occurs about 15 to 20 years after occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica. Of course, this means that those who have been exposed to silica may not realize they’re being affected for a very long time.

In order to detect lung damage in silicosis sufferers, x-rays are often necessary. The more the disease progresses, the more a person experiences shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain and respiratory failure. Silicosis also impacts the immune system, increasing the risk of such lung infections as tuberculosis.

What is COPD?

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (or COPD, for short) is represented by more than one respiratory ailment. Among them are emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

Emphysema is a long-term, progressive disease of the lungs. Its main symptom is shortness of breath, which is due to the over-inflation of the alveoli (air sacs in the lung). Emphysema can slow or even stop airflow upon exhalation, preventing the exchange of gases (oxygen and carbon dioxide) that occurs when a person breathes.

Chronic bronchitis is the inflammation and irritation of the bronchial tubes. These tubes are the airways that carry air to and from the air sacs in your lungs. When the tubes become irritated, mucus begins to build up. The combination of swollen bronchial tubes and mucus build up makes it difficult for the lungs to move oxygen in and carbon dioxide out of the body.

What is kidney disease?

Kidneys are the two bean-shaped, fist-sized organs that filter extra water and waste from blood to make urine. Kidney disease occurs when the kidneys are damaged and can’t filter blood the way they should. People who have diabetes or high blood pressure are at greater risk of kidney disease. However, studies of workers who have been exposed to respirable crystalline silica have found that these workers are at increased risk of developing kidney disease.

Enviro-Works is the only lab in western Canada to offer in-house Respirable Silica Testing and one of the only labs in North America to offer the low detection limits we provide for our clients. For more information about this important service, please don’t hesitate to call us at 780-457-4652 or email us at